New Study: Principals Work 60-Hour Workweek

School principals work an average of 60 hours per week, with many principals in high-poverty schools logging additional hours. A new study by the Federal Regional Education Laboratory (REL) for Northeast and Islands quotes a Michigan elementary principal who says that being a principal is not a job; “it’s a lifestyle.”


How Do Principals Spend Their Time?

REL analyzed data from 6,000 elementary and secondary principals who participated in the federal Schools and Staffing Survey during the 2011-2012 year. This is how they spent their time:

  •  31% administrative tasks
  •  27% curriculum and staffing
  •  23% interacting with students
  •  13% interacting with parents

One interesting note was that “regardless of school poverty level, principals of schools that made adequate yearly progress reported spending more time on administrative tasks, curriculum- and teaching-related tasks, and parent interactions than did principals of schools that did not make adequate yearly progress.”

Why This Study?

Research shows that administrative leadership is a significant factor of student achievement. While research has revealed the pressure principals are under and the importance of their administrative tasks, little is known about how principals spend their time accomplishing these tasks. This study specifically examined the “role of principals in high-poverty, low-performing schools by examining how principals spend their time on various tasks and whether there are significant differences in the time spent on tasks by school grade level, school poverty level, and within poverty level by school performance.”

Additional Findings Include:

  • Principals of regular public schools spent more than half their time on internal administrative tasks and curriculum-teaching tasks.
  • Elementary principals spent less time on student interactions (13.0 hours) than middle school principals (14.5 hours) and secondary principals (14.4 hours).
  • Almost all principals reported participating in professional development during the school year with 94 percent participating in a workshop or attending a conference.
  • Elementary school principals reported less participation in a principal network than did high school principals.
  • Only half of the principals reported in engaging in mentoring, and only one-quarter participated in a university course.

Limitations of the Study

Because the findings are based on self-reported data, it is possible that principals either over-reported or under-reported their time spent on particular tasks. Another reason to be cautious about these results is the data (the most recent available for this analysis) is from the 2011-2012 school year. Many districts have implemented more rigorous learning standards and new teacher evaluation programs since then. So, conclusions drawn from this data alone may not draw an accurate picture of how principals spend their time today.

Upcoming Principal Report

MCH Strategic Data conducts an annual poll of K-12 principals across the country and across grade levels. This “on-the-ground” study has alerted educational marketers to early trends and changes in the lives of principals, schools, and districts. The survey is currently out in the field and MCH looks forward to presenting those results in January 2017. Click here to request last year’s survey results. 

How principals spend their time